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March 1, 2021

Are you missing your child due to social isolation? If your former partner is keeping you from your child, please understand you are not alone. COVID-19 isolation has created a new set of legal issues for divorced parents and/or parents who never married but share custody of a child.

The Scoop on Covid-19 and Co-Parenting

If you've been living separately for some time, you probably have a legal custody agreement that outlines when you share time with your child. If you recently separated from your child's mother, you should consult an attorney to make these arrangements legal. Any parenting agreement, temporary or permanent, that's been approved by the court explains who makes the decisions regarding your child's medical care, education, and general welfare. However, when North Carolina adopted a shelter-in-place order, it might have felt like this agreement was thrown out the window.

The pandemic has changed the legal landscape. If your co-parent has been keeping your child, reducing your time, or refusing to let you see your child, then you're obviously feeling emotions like anger and frustration. To make matters worse, our courts are closed due to COVID-19. I get many parents asking me if they can make emergency decisions regarding their child that would violate the custody agreement.

This is a complex legal situation. The biggest question to think about is whether your co-parent is placing your child at greater risk for contracting the virus. Furthermore, it's almost never advisable to break custody agreements without sufficient cause, and you're always better off asking your family law attorney.

If you can't see your child or have physical custody of your child and are pondering keeping him or her with you beyond your designated time, consider these types of questions:

  • Is the co-parent infected with the virus?

  • Is the co-parent living in a community with a high infection rate?

  • Does the co-parent work in a profession that includes an increased risk of virus exposure (i.e. emergency responder or healthcare worker)?

  • Is the co-parent providing adequate supervision and meeting your child's needs?

  • Will the co-parent help your child avoid exposure by practicing social distancing?

Keep in mind you are not a judge. Your co-parent could be asking herself these same questions about your suitability for providing ample shelter during the crisis, especially if you are away at work much of the time or at risk. Both parents have reasons to fear for their child's safety because all parents are worried about COVID-19 affecting their kids.

Step Back from Your Emotions

During COVID-19, I encourage parents to manage their emotions and document their situation until the crisis ends. You may have visitation, shared custody, or another arrangement. Your co-parent may have the ability to make decisions for your child. Consider what is temporarily in the best interest of your child even if that's not what is spelled out in the custody agreement.

It is unlikely that law enforcement will get involved in a custody dispute unless a child's safety is at risk. This includes the reality that you, the child's father, might have to wait to pursue legal action for missed time with your child during these unprecedented circumstances.

Keep Documentation

Remember, you are losing time with your child, worried, and distraught, and rightly so. You have no control over how your child is being cared for without intermittent visits or, at the very least, regular texting or phone calls. Be sure to document all communication with your co-parent. This detailed information will be important when you return to the family court and ask a judge to revisit your custody issues.

Although separation from your child feels devastating, if your co-parent is providing a stable environment and meeting all his/her needs, then you should be thankful and strive to maintain open communication.